Monday, March 2, 2015

Critters, Crimes, and Krafty* Times

 




This week's projects are still under construction (a grave misdemeanor during this first week of National Craft Month, I know), so here's a collection of random but nonetheless pleasing images that I may or may not have already posted.  Today's text will be a hodgepodge, too.  But the theme will be bound by this ditty:

Keep it light,
Keep it funny,
Keep it winsome,
Like a bunny.

I thought of that while brushing my teeth.  And so now, in an attempt to keep my ablution-brewed promise, here are a few things that are amusing (or at least to me).

First, I read a fun new author this week.  Her name is Laura Levine, and she writes cozy mysteries about -- what else? -- a sassy sleuth with a cat.  There's something special about Jaine Austen, and I don't just mean her misspelled literary legend of a moniker.  Jaine (not unlike her namesake) is a freelance writer who never met a takeout carton that didn't make her swoon.  With a cushy advertising gig and a jerk of an ex-husband (she calls him The Blob) in her rear view mirror, she's armed with only her cantankerous cat Prozac, her trusty elastic waist jeans, and her wits to navigate the often shark-infested waters of Los Angeles.  I laughed out loud as Jaine dealt with bylines and bodies with equal parts chutzpah, all the while trying not to feel like I was cheating on Mary Daheim's Judith and Renie, my up-until-now unopposed favorites in the category of fictional quirky crime-fighters.  Jaine's capers are made all the more captivating by her single-girl snafus and her frills-free lifestyle, both of which provide endless fodder for the self-deprecating humor that is at the heart of her first-person narratives.  If I ever write a novel, then I'd want it to be like these, a quippy account of self-effacing fiascoes, unpaid credit card bills, and siren-like snacks.  Because when you get down to it, isn't that what life's really about?

On the subject of food (because somehow it's always the subject), the husband and I were watching some Food Network show in which one chef grimly grinned through a mouthful of another's kale-covered cookies when the husband said, "They should have a cooking show where chefs say what they're really thinking instead of pretending to like everything.  They could call it "The Roast."'  I agreed but thought that it should be called "That's So Rare" or maybe even "What's Your Beef?" (you know, if it was meant to be raucous).  Oh, how the meatballs would fly.

And finally, here's the last kernel in this cornucopia of crazy.  I don't think people would call the boss the "head cheese" if they knew what head cheese actually was.  Or maybe they would, given the way some people feel about their bosses.  No . . . wait.  They wouldn't say "head cheese" at all.  They'd say "head honcho" or "big cheese."  Those, now that I think about it, are the sayings.

*I mean no disrespect to the good people of Kraft.  Their products are topnotch and not at all like head cheese.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Tale of Two Witties and Four Vintage Pretties




 Violet Riot Necklace

Top: Ann Taylor Loft
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Candie's, Kohl's
Bag: Apt. 9, Kohl's
Belt: New York & Company






 Green Grape Garden Necklace

Top: Macy's
Skirt: Necessary Objects, Annie Sez
Shoes: Nine West, DSW
Bag: Ecko Red, Macy's






 Good Luck Garden Necklace

Dress: Macy's
Shoes: Nine West, Macy's
Bag: XOXO, Ross
Wrap: Gifted
Scarf: Macy's






 Howdy, Heartland! Necklace

Sweater: Mossimo, Target
Blouse: Candie's, Kohl's
Skirt: Kohl's
Shoes: Guess, DSW
Bag: XOXO, Ross

Okay.  So the necklaces aren't strictly "vintage," and "witties" isn't even a word.  But the rhythm was right, so I ran through the night with all the energy of a rumba star (you know, if writing was like rumbaing, which I suspect it's not).  Although not members of the exclusive V class, these necklaces do have a little bit of history repeating in that they contain remnants of (my) old store-bought jewelry.  Those green panel beads in the Green Grape Garden Necklace used to be the bones of a stretch bracelet, as did the pink embossed medallions and white rhinestone clusters in the Howdy, Heartland! Necklace and the brown blossoms in the Good Luck Garden Necklace.  I love the way they add heft to this neckwear.

But it hasn't been all fashion all the time; I've been reading a lot lately, too.  Most of what I read falls into two categories: the broccoli category and the pudding category.  Broccoli books are good for you but sometimes hard to swallow.  For me, this means nonfiction and fiction that is overly dark, historical, and/or scientific.  Pudding books, on the other hand, are comfort food.  You know what you're getting and are happy to get it, returning for seconds and thirds so satiating that they anchor you to your couch.  By now you probably know that my favorite flavors are chick lit, cozy mysteries, and biographies by (non-dark) comics.  So, when I received This Shared Dream by Kathleen Ann Goonan as a gift, I knew that I was in for some broccoli.  The first clue was the telltale TOR on its spine, designating it as science fiction.  The second was the largely historical bent, an element that became apparent within the first few pages of this time-traveling saga partially set in World War II Germany.  Without getting too crazy (because there's plenty of potential for that), I'll put the plot out there.  The three Dance siblings, Jill, Brian, and Megan are dealing with the fallout of their long-missing, top-secret spy parents.  Then Jill reports encounters with their mother, landing herself in the loony bin.  Weird stuff starts happening to Brian and Megan too, leading them to conclude that their parents are still out there somewhere in the space time continuum, ostensibly on a mission to save the world from war by disseminating a brain-controlling drug called HD-50.  

Now, this would be a good place to admit that I appreciate this novel's sci-fi strangeness, its shadow of doom glowing, galaxy-like, in the background despite my habit of dissing the whole sci-fi genre.  Equally appealing is the juxtaposition of the familiar with the otherworldly, kind of like the cornfields in Superman and that Star Trek movie remake (and for all I know, the original, too -- like I said, I'm no a sci-fi aficionado), even if, in this case, the familiar is far-from-bucolic Washington, DC.  Yet, nestled amid the steel fronds of this urban jungle are idyllic scenes from the Dance family homestead, a gingerbread mansion overflowing with books and banter and a Montessori school tucked into the sun room.  Although the story is at times hard to follow, what with the time travel, the World War II references, and the science-y jargon, its central question is clear: Is it okay to control people's minds if doing so benefits the greater good?  It's an odd concept, especially because it's the inverse of the one that fuels textbook utopian dramas like 1984, The Giver, and from what I'm told, Divergent.  Those stories turn utopias on their heads, are, indeed, tales of utopias gone horribly wrong.  By contrast, This Shared Dream challenges the idea that utopias are inherently evil, which is part of what makes it such a tough, ahem, pill to swallow.  To be fair, it does do that classic push-pull, devil's advocate thing before settling into its stance of honest people don't have anything to worry about.  Nevertheless, when I reached the book's fantastical yet inevitable conclusion, it was with mixed feelings.  But I can't deny that it made me think.

And now that the broccoli's been dutifully downed, trunks and all, it's time for the pudding!  And the cherry on top (who says pudding can't have cherries?) is served up by our pals Fred and Carrie.  That's right, it's The Portlandia Cookbook, a culinary compendium that should, by all rights, be the broccoli in this analogy based solely on its crunchy cuisine.  I read it more as a book than a cookbook, which is how I read any cookbook worth its salt.  This particular collection of eclectic eats chronicles treats (and trials!) featured throughout the IFC sketch comedy series.  To be sure, the intro invites fans to not, "Put a bird on it!" but "Lay an egg on it!", slyly suggesting that a yolk or two will make a dish a real zinger.  More out-there still, the Kale and Quinoa Bowl with Tofu and Mushrooms how-to includes much-needed directions to the famed fart patio.  Other recipes reference Nina's (of Lance and Nina fame) tapas-themed birthday dinner, ex-carb addict Peter's (of Peter and Nance fame) newly moderate approach to pasta consumption, and the for-women-only margaritas mixed up by -- who else? -- Candace and Toni of Women and Women First.  



Everyone knows that Portlandia's denizens are quaintly quirky.  But can they cook?  The answer is . . . sort of.  The Portlandia Cookbook is packed with the kind of food designed to tease health conscious yet epicurean palates, spare yet fancy fare hip enough to pass muster in any Pacific Northwestern brunch spot, coffee shop, or food truck.  Which is to say that this cheese-and-crackers blogger had a tough time finding something that didn't send her taste buds screaming.  Still, I managed to home in (yes, birdlike) on this singular sugar-drenched breakfast delight:

Cream-cheese Filled Pumpkin French Toast with Pecans (pg 155)

Ingredients:

1/2 cup pecan halves
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tbsp confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/3 cups whole milk
8 slices of good-quality white bread
Softened butter, for the griddle
Maple syrup, warmed, for serving

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Spread the pecans out in a single layer on a pie plate and toast until fragrant and golden, 8 to 10 minutes.  Let cool, then coarsely chop.

3.  In a small bowl, using a wooden spoon, beat the cream cheese until smooth.  Add the confectioners' sugar and beat to combine.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin puree together with the eggs, egg yolk, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.  Whisk in the milk.

5.  Arrange the bread in pairs and spread 4 slices with the cream cheese mixture, leaving a 1-inch border all around.  Top with the other 4 slices and dip each "sandwich" into the pumpkin custard, allowing it to soak for 15 to 20 seconds.  Lift the sandwiches from the custard, allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl, then place them on a platter while the griddle preheats.

6.  Heat a griddle or a nonstick skillet over medium heat and generously brush with the softened butter.  Add the sandwiches and cook until browned but not cooked through, turning once, about 4 minutes.  Brush the skillet with butter as needed.

7.  Sprinkle the almost-done French toast with confectioners' sugar, flip so the sugared side is down, and cook just until glossy, about 15 seconds.  Sprinkle the top with confectioners' sugar and repeat to cook the second side.  Transfer the French toast to a baking sheet and finish cooking in the oven until just firm and the edges are dry, about 5 minutes.  Serve the French toast with warmed maple syrup and toasted pecans and dusted with confectioners' sugar.

Pureed pumpkin for breakfast?  Tastes like pudding to me!  Except, I'd probably just buy a pudding cup instead of going through all this trouble.  Something tells me that most Portlandians would do the same.        

Monday, February 16, 2015

For the Love of Lincoln . . .





Tee: Gifted
Skirt: L'Amour, J. C. Penney's
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Gifted
Scarf: Express
Sunglasses: J. C. Penney's






 I Heart Rainbows Necklace

Top: Material Girl, Macy's
Skirt: Modcloth
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Bag: Loop, Toilet Water, Ocean City boardwalk
Belt: Wet Seal






Top: Lily White, Target
Dress: XOXO, Macy's
Shoes: Venus
Bag: Kenneth Cole Reaction, gifted
Belt: Candie's, Kohl's

. . . is an intro no doubt tempting more than one blogger this Valentine's-Day-slash-President's-Day-weekend.  Washington, while not given billing, is paid tribute by the white top on display in outfit number two.  (Well, at least his hair is.)  My faithful Modcloth skirt is included for similar reasons.  Because nothing says you love the USA like a unicorn.

And now, because it would be inappropriate to expound upon presidential passions, we'll move on to the hearts and flowers portion of our program, which will be told through pictures of, well, hearts. And a Golden Book.

Here are some valentines I made for my family.  The husband's, I must confess, was store-bought.  (Because when it comes to romance, it's Target or bust.)




Yes, that is Golden Books all-star The Pokey Little Puppy peeking out of that heart nestled in that lady's hair.



Some nice, old-timey storybook pictures.  I'm especially partial to the prince's blond flip.  



Before I pack it in, I found another nugget for team Washington (something more bankable than unicorns, chances being slim that Washington was a Brony) in the form of this Books-a-Million desk calendar quote:

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence."

Wise words, Washington.  I'll never laugh at your teeth again.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Girls Just Want to Have Puns





Tee: Kohl's
Skirt: Modcloth
Shoes: Bongo, Kohl's
Bag: Journeys
Belt: Kohl's






Cheery Cherry Sunglasses



Dress: Kohl's
Tee: Kohl's
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Call it Spring, J. C. Penney's






Jewel Jumble Necklace

Top: Lily White, Target
Jeans: Vanilla Star (not Mossimo, which I've been erroneously crediting these last odd three years), Target
Shoes: Guess, DSW
Bag: J. C. Penney's






Top: Kohl's
Jeans: Earl Jeans, Macy's
Shoes: Ami Clubwear
Bag: Candie's, Kohl's





Backwoods Bling Necklace

Tee: Mudd, Kohl's
Skirt: New York & Company
Shoes: Payless
Bag: Payless
Belt: Candie's, Kohl's



I always think, "Huh?" when people say "no pun intended."  Because isn't the pun always intended, if even just subconsciously?  That having been said, I've probably logged at least one such infraction somewhere on this blog.  But I'm willing to overlook that if you are.

I don't know where Lena Dunham stands on wordplay, but I can't imagine that she'd be against it.  I've (almost) always liked Dunham, and not just because she favors Etsian necklaces that look like something out of a kindergarten teacher's closet (as documented in the February 2014 Vogue).  It's because this creator and star of HBO's "Girls" is the poster child for taking risks.  So naturally, I was drawn to her collection of essays, Not That Kind of Girl.  Like Shopaholic to the Stars, it has a strikingly hot pink, and therefore blogworthy, cover.  Which made me wonder: Is Dunham being ironic?  As in, pink is for weak girly girls?  Or is she saying the opposite, that pink is empowering?  Or maybe that it's empowering only in the right hands?  Or maybe . . . she just likes pink.  But enough about the cover and its implications; the inside has illustrations!  Check out this kaleidoscopic collage of kawaii-tastic treats including, but certainly not limited to, pretzels, eclairs, pineapples, cheeseburgers, heart necklaces, and exotic birds:


 

Fun and feminine, its appeal is near-universal.  Although I'm sure that there are some people out there who don't like such things, I sure as heck don't want to meet them.  Anyway, their sweetly retro vibe is in sharp contrast with the book's grittiness, setting the stage for Dunham's unique blend of dark comic naivete.  For it is gritty, despite being reminiscent of Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?  And Other Concerns.  You know.  If Mindy Kaling had been raised by an artist in Tribeca instead of a gynecologist in Boston and belonged to the dwell-on-it-until-you-land-in-the-hospital-and/or-psychiatrist's-office school of thought instead of the don't-complain-because-everyone's-got-problems school of thought.  This last bit, by the way, was a lesson that Mindy learned from her mother.  But this post isn't about Mindy; it's about Lena.  So instead I'm going to talk about something that she learned from her mother:

"Luxury is nice, but creativity is nicer.  Hence the game where you go into the ten-dollar store and pick out an outfit you might wear to the Oscars (or to the sixth-grade dance)." (107).

This spoke to me for two reasons: 1) Like so many thirtysomethings, I sometimes get sucked into the pursuit of yuppiness, a misstep that clouds my judgment, making me go all pouty because I don't have a Volvo. Or a Brita water filter.  This quote fixes all that by reminding me that yuppies are yucky.   2) My sister and I used to play the $20 challenge game in Marshalls.  Which is to say we'd go to Marshalls with just $20 and try to buy something cool (far less complicated than most card games and, in my opinion, more satisfying).  Lena's mom gives it to us straight: it's not what you have, but what you do with it.  This optimistic and free-spirited, er, spirit is woven through even the murkiest sections of Dunham's confessional, leave-nothing-out prose, echoing the theme that at the core of every artist surges the need for freedom.  Dunham is as unabashed about this as she is about broadcasting her body and her love of carbs.  Which is nice in a world where self-aware women are (sometimes) dismissed as selfish.  Reviewer Miranda July puts it best:

"Very few women have become famous for being who they actually are, nuanced and imperfect.  When honesty happens, it's usually couched in self-ridicule or self-help.  Dunham doesn't apologize like that -- she simply tells her story as if it might be interesting.  Not That Kind of Girl is hilarious, artful, and staggeringly intimate.  I read it shivering with recognition." (back cover)

When I first read this quote, my knee-jerk reaction was, "What?!  All those other famous women out there are fake?"  (I'm not kidding; I actually thought this.)  But then I remembered that fame is like any other profession, and as such contingent upon following a set of unspoken but unbreakable rules.  Dunham doesn't seem to fall prey to any such playbook, and for that she should be applauded.

Did some parts of this book make me cringe?  Well, yeah.  Some of them because they were so alien to me, others because they weren't (over-thinking oneself into a tizzy, to my relief, is far more common than I'd previously surmised).  But then, I'm always willing to put up with a little discomfort in the name of authenticity.  Add a good laugh and an even better story, and I'm zipping through it in a weekend.

Which just goes to show that you can't put a good girl down.